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Be Frank With Me: A Novel Paperback – September 6, 2016
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From the Publisher
Author Chat: Julia Claiborne Johnson and Marisa de los Santos
Marisa de los Santos is the bestselling author of Belong to Me, Love Walked In, and Falling Together. Her newest book, The Precious One, is now available in paperback.
Marisa: In your Be Frank with Me, Alice is almost like a Nick Carraway figure, culling and recording information. I loved this when Fitzgerald did it, and I loved it when you did. How did you decide to tell the story of Frank and Mimi from the view of an outsider?
Julia: It's funny you say that, because I always thought of Alice as the Nick Carraway of my story. Having the story told by an outsider like Alice opened up the narrative for me—I could work in jokes and subtext in a way that I don't think I, as a first-time novelist, would have been able to do in third person. I wasn't ready for that. I needed Alice as much as Mimi did—filtering everything through her made the story fall into place for me.
Marisa: When I wrote my first novel, the world of publishing was a total mystery to me and, in many ways, it still is. Though this is your first book, it strikes me your novel is very much about publishing. Did you feel like you had a grasp of its intricacies going in?
Julia: When I was young I worked in the fiction department of Mademoiselle, so I knew a little something. I was the first reader of the 10,000 short stories submitted to that magazine for consideration every year, and I remember the feeling of drowning under stacks of manuscripts. I'd read the first page of every submission and then separate them into piles—the ones with real potential on the right, the ones I'd probably just skim on the left. In the years I worked there, I remember reading one story straight through from beginning to end, and then walking into the fiction editor’s office and saying, "You need to buy this story right now." (That story was by a young Ethan Canin, now author of The Doubter's Almanac.) I thought of that moment when I wrote about Isaac Vargas finding Mimi's manuscript for The Pitcher in a slush pile. It was actually thrilling.
Marisa: Your novel is set in Los Angeles. So I had to wonder—why is Mimi a novelist instead of an actress or a screenwriter?
Julia: When my daughter was ten, she read To Kill a Mockingbird, so I re-read it. This time around—as a middle-aged parent in the 21st century—I thought: "Oh, Boo Radley must be autistic." My next thought was, "Well, it was a lot easier to write Boo Radley than it is to raise him." The whole story rolled itself out for me then. That's why Mimi had to be a writer vs. an actress—she writes it, and then she lives it. I set my book in Hollywood because I've lived here for twenty years. I didn't want to let all the irresistible stuff I know about it now go to waste.
Marisa: What's next? Or are you working on something new? Fingers crossed!
Julia: I have two solid ideas I won't tell you a thing about. I have books I need to read and notes to take and ideas to iron out before I get started. I hope I can put words on the page for at least one of them by the fall. Wouldn't it be nice if I could write both at the same time, and finish two in half the time it took me to write this one? It should go faster this time. Writing a novel doesn't seem impossible to me anymore.
From School Library Journal
Alice, a 20-something assistant at a New York publishing house, is sent by her boss to California to look after one of his clients, M.M. Banning (aka Mimi). Thirty years earlier, at the age of 19, Banning wrote a Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning novel that continues to sell a million copies a year. As far as anyone knows, she has not written anything since, but now, having been swindled by an investment advisor, she needs money and someone to help her keep her household going while she writes another book. So Alice arrives on Mimi's doorstep in Bel Air and meets Mimi and her nine-year-old son, Frank. Frank is an old-for-his-age cinephile with an encyclopedic knowledge of old movies and a penchant for dressing like characters in those same films. Mimi is allegedly working on the promised book, but she never allows Alice to see any of it, and Alice finds herself acting as a full-time companion to Frank. Despite early misgivings, she is drawn into the rhythms of their odd family, which includes a gorgeous young man named Xander, who shows up occasionally, teaches piano to Frank, and does odd jobs around the place and whom Alice suspects might be Frank's father. VERDICT By turns touching, laugh-out-loud funny, thoughtful, and manic, this is a delightful novel that will appeal to teens who like their characters quirky and smart and their stories fast-paced and witty.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Library --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
“Readers will find themselves captivated.” (People)
“Delightful. You will laugh out loud.” (Slate)
“Johnson’s magnificently poignant, funny, and wholly original debut goes beyond page-turner status. Readers will race to the next sentence. And the next. Her charming, flawed, quietly courageous characters, each wonderfully different, demand a second reading while we impatiently await the author’s second work.” (Library Journal (starred review))
“A lot of fun to be had along the way. Sit back…and enjoy the show.” (New York Times Book Review)
“Julia Claiborne Johnson ably conjures a quirky cast and a privileged California world. BE FRANK WITH ME is about being an outsider and the ways in which differences help others see the world in a new way. Like Frank, this offbeat story has a big heart.” (BookPage)
“Johnson’s spare, wry, Salingeresque style evokes those great oddball novels of the past and provides a charming take on the parent-of-challenged-child theme.” (Daily Mail (London))
“Frank Banning may be the most endearing scene-stealer you’ll ever meet in the pages of a book...Johnson proves it’s possible to write a comic novel that, at times, is heartbreaking.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
“This book has stayed with me since I turned the last page. Frank is one of the most memorable children in contemporary fiction.” (Irish Times)
“Simply delightful...A warm and friendly book, with characters you want to get to know.” (Sunday Times (London))
“Hilarious, poignant and full of unexpected gems, BE FRANK WITH ME illuminates the strange ways literature can parallel life, and introduces readers to one of the most charming, lovable and maddening children in fiction.” (Huffington Post)
“Witty dialogue, irresistible characters, and a touch of mystery make this sweet debut about a quirky Hollywood family an enjoyable page-turner.” (Booklist)
“The curious incident of where’d you go, Salinger.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Julia Claiborne Johnson has struck gold in creating Frank Banning -- a one-of-a-kind exasperating, witty and endearing nine-year-old genius who functions as the beating heart of this marvelous book.” (Julie Schumacher, author of Dear Committee Members)
“Witty, but never cutesy. Deeply felt, but never sentimental. Peopled with deeply flawed, fully realized characters I cared about... I loved every minute I spent in Julia Claiborne Johnson’s glass house with her cast of dedicated stone-throwers. This one is special---don’t miss it.” (Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times-bestselling author of The Opposite of Everyone)
“There’s so much to love about this novel: the hilarious one-liners, the unforgettable characters, the unexpected moments of tenderness and all the funny, sad, poignant twists and turns this story takes. I lost myself in these pages and you will too.” (John Searles, nationally-bestselling author of Help for the Haunted)
“Julia Claiborne Johnson has written an effervescent gem of a novel, expertly balancing on a literary tightrope between lighthearted and heartbreaking. BE FRANK WITH ME is peopled by characters at once utterly unique, and entirely authentic. I may re-read this book just to spend more time with Frank.” (Laura Nicole Diamond, author of Shelter Us: a novel)
Beautifully written, brimming with insight, mystery, and benevolent wit, Julia Johnson had me gripped from the first chapter to the final page of BE FRANK WITH ME.” (Julia Sweeney, author, actress, comedienne)
“BE FRANK WITH ME is complex, nuanced, detailed and profound. In other words, funny, in the best, most resonant way. Read it with both eyes because it will delight both the thinky and the feely parts of your brain.” (Dave Foley, comedian and technically, an actor)
“What a charmer this book is! From the very first page, I fell hard for Frank, an adorable oddball with an amazing brain, a wardrobe to die for, and a lonely fragility that pierced my heart again and again.” (Marisa de los Santos, New York Times-bestselling author of Love Walked In and The Precious One)
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Top Customer Reviews
So while I was enjoying reading the book tremendously (she is a very talented writer), when I finished I had the distinct sense I just wasted my time. Had Johnson finished the book as strongly as she began, this would have easily been a five star review.
One of my pet peeves in novels is difficult children (I get enough of that in my life), but Frank is not that, exactly. Frank is someone who has difficulty being a child. He doesn't fit in easily. But he does have people who love him--a devoted (if busy) mother, the handyman piano teacher and "itinerant male role model," and soon enough, our protagonist, Alice, who's been left to care for him and keep him out of his mother's way while she writes the book that will secure their future. Who wouldn't fall in love with Frank? He's smart, and charming, and full of humor he doesn't recognize. I was thrilled to be along for the ride on Alice and Frank's adventures and Alice's efforts to unravel the mysteries of this hodge-podge family she's found herself at the center of.